You can obsess over a few words. And you can think about them for decades. No, I mean, you can. Go ahead. It’s not writer insanity, it isn’t.
In this case, the words I think about and have thought about since I was old enough to say "eh?" are in that moon speech of John F Kennedy’s.
The speech, written by Ted Sorensen, is surely the most remembered political speech of Kennedy’s time, maybe of anyone’s time. If you’ve heard others, you haven’t heard them as often as you have this one.
It was a speech born of much the same political crap we still go through, but it’s a speech that has a decent chance of being remembered for a thousand years. We’ve fumbled a bit, but still there was a time before we had reached the moon and there’s now, when we have.
For at least seven million years, we’ve looked up at the moon. And now in our lifetime, we’ve got there. It makes me gasp.
I don’t care that Kennedy’s motivation was base politics. I care a bit that when the US President phoned the astronauts on the moon, the President was Nixon.
The thing I care about far too much is a line in that speech. While we’re enjoying all this anniversary coverage of the moon landing, listen out for how many times you hear this speech – and how often it is carefully edited.
Of course we only see and hear a tiny fragment of what was in reality a full half an hour long speech. But I mean even the key line is often edited, often obscured.
It’s the line that goes: "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
That’s not even the whole sentence, but as well as no newsroom bothering to go beyond that point, they also twitch over "and do the other things".
They twitch over that and they distract us with a cutaway to b-roll footage and I think about it too much because it’s rubbish.
You’ve no idea now what these other things were, but nobody really did then, either. Sorenson fudged the best sentence in political history.
The whole speech is rubbish. It careers from the inspirational that we remember to the defensive that we don’t. It has over the top rhetoric about how "we set sail on this new sea". And it has moments of admin tedium when it says going to the moon will help us organise ourselves and, I may be exaggerating here, presumably invent Post-It notes.
You can forget all of the contemporary politics because everyone skips everything except the moon line. You can ignore how the speech was aimed at persuading the recalcitrant American public that going to the moon was a good thing, because it worked and they went.
The ‘we choose to go to the moon’ speech is dreadful, but that line isn’t. That line soars.
Except for the clang about ‘and do the other things’ right in the middle of it. Maybe that line as a whole is the most inspirational by a US President, but it clangs in the middle.
Sorensen blew it there. He couldn’t have imagined how the line would be repeated, how it would resonate, but still he blew it.
Don’t listen to the whole speech, either, because it’s full of blown moments. And Kennedy didn’t help. He hand-wrote some gags into it to do with the weather and sports.
According to Wikipedia, it’s his gags that are most remembered by sports fans. This is the speech that got the human race to the moon and what some people remember from it is a fucking football match.
At least Kennedy didn’t wear a cap with Make The Moon Great Again.